New Poll: Are Churches Welcoming Towards LGBT People?
The question whether gay people are accepted in church has dogged Christian leaders for decades.
But a new poll out on Thursday reveals the same proportion of people think gay people are welcome in UK churches as those who think they are unwelcome. A YouGov poll highlighted that 30 per cent of Brits believe churches are welcoming towards gay people with 33 per cent saying they are not welcoming.
Younger people were more likely to think LGBT people are unwelcome in church, with 38 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds saying churches were not hospitable to gay people and 36 per cent of 25 to 49-year-olds agreeing. Those over 60 were almost twice as likely to think the LGBT community was welcome in church than unwelcome.
The poll did not define what a "welcome" meant and left open the question whether churches that are opposed to same-sex relationships in what they teach can still properly welcome gay couples.
Churches in the UK hold a wide variety of positions on homosexuality but most do not agree that same-sex couples can marry. The Methodist Church in Britain is reviewing its teaching and while some Baptist churches do conduct gay weddings, the Baptist Union of Great Britain has emphasised the teaching that marriage is "a union between a man and a woman".
The Church of England's current position is also that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman but bishops are under talks whether to offer gay couples a form of acceptance or blessing.
The survey also revealed that 47 per cent think the Church of England in particular is there for everyone, with less than one fifth (17 per cent) saying the opposite.
Jayne Ozanne, an LGBT campaigner and member of the C of E's ruling body, the General Synod, commissioned the research and said the "greatest concern" was that young people and those with no religion tend to think the C of E is not there for everyone and that UK churches generally are not welcoming to gay people.
"If the Church is serious about its commitment to mission, it needs to heed the concerns and perceptions of those it wants to attract, otherwise no one will want to listen," she said.
Peter Ould, a statistician and conservative C of E priest based in Canterbury, told Christian Today: "The comments from the liberal campaigners in the Church of England disguise the interesting detail of the YouGov survey which contradicts their political posturing.
"There is no specific question about the welcome of Anglican churches, rather the hospitality of all churches is explored and here those who associate with the Church of England say, by a ratio of 2.5 to 1, that it is welcoming to LGBT people.
"This should be an encouragement to Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has launched a number of initiatives in Church of England parishes and schools to tackle homophobia. It demonstrates that the Church of England can both hold to a conservative theology on human sexuality and move forward in providing safe and welcoming spaces for those of minority sexualities and gender identities."
But the Dean of Christ Church, the Very Rev Martyn Percy, said it was a "tragedy for our mission and ministry that the Church of England continues to denigrate and discriminate against lesbian, gay and transgendered people".
He warned if the Church clings to "its own institutional homophobia" and capitulates to "reactionary conservative lobby-groups" it would "impede all efforts to evangelise future generations".
Another LGBT campaigner the Rt Rev Dr Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, said: "The Church of England must learn to listen to those it seeks to serve."
Charlie Skrine, a minister at the conservative church St Helen's Bishopgate and a member of the C of E's synod, welcomed the survey and said as UK "moved on from terrible past homophobia" all churches have had to "repent of failing to welcome LGBTI people in the past".
But he added: "The larger issue here is what it means for an established Church to 'serve' the nation. My experience of working with younger people in the centre of the most cosmopolitan and diverse city in the world is that a welcome of love and respect for every person, can be combined with offering them the teaching of Jesus and his apostles. We serve people best when we hold out their words without feeling the need to change them to fit in with what people want to hear. We have a significant number of LGBTI people at our church; those in same-sex partnerships who have come to our church over the last 10 years have described us as welcoming, loving and caring, and they have thanked us for helping them investigate the Christian message for themselves, even when they disagree with what they are reading in the Bible.
"The most concerning feature of the recent debates on sexuality in the Church of England is the number of people in the nation at large who think the job of the established Church is to change the message of Jesus until it no longer disagrees with our culture. Once that is true, then we have ceased to serve the nation at all."